Relief map of Timor

Timor is a large, mountainous island near the eastern end of the Netherlands East Indies island arc. It is located about 400 miles (640 km)) northeast of Darwin and 670 miles (1080 km) east-southeaset of Java. The island is about 280 miles (450 km) long and has an area of 11,864 square miles (30,728 km2). The island is relatively dry, its central mountain chain being mostly covered with scrub, but the lower elevations are more fertile. The mountain chain rises to 3000'-5000' (900-1500 meters) with some isolated higher peaks, the highest of which is Mount Tata Mailau at 9721' (2963 meters). The few rivers drain mostly to the southeast. Most of the coastline is free of reefs and has good landing beaches.

West Timor was under Dutch control while East Timor was a Portuguese colony and, theoretically, neutral territory during the Pacific War. The Australians and Dutch garrisoned it anyway, on 17 December 1941, with 400 troops. The population of the Dutch half was about 150 Dutch, 400,000 Indonesians (primarily Muslim), and perhaps 5000 Chinese and Arabs. The Portuguese half was inhabited by 500,000 Indonesians (primarily Christian), 2000 Chinese, 300 Portuguese, and smaller numbers of Arabs and Japanese.

The major ports were Kupang in West Timor and Dili in East Timor.  There was a single improved road running from Kupang up the island's center, then north to Dili and east along the north coast. Most transport was by pony (of which there were some 100,000 on the island.) The island was relatively poor, having few exports.

Dili played a significant role in Japanese prewar intelligence. The Japanese established an  airmail service between Palau and Dili for which there was no obvious purpose other than covert reconnaissance of the Netherlands East Indies.

Both Kupang and Dili were invaded by the Japanese on 20 February 1942 in order to cut the air bridge from Australia to Java. The Kupang convoy was composed of nine transports escored by a light cruiser and eight destroyers, while the Dili convoy consisted of five transports, two destroyers, two minesweepers, and a number of submarine chasers. The assault force was drawn from 228 Regiment and 1 Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force. The latter included paratroops that were dropped behind Kupang to trap the garrison, which surrendered by 23 February. The landings at Dili were almost unopposed.

Timor is good guerrilla country, with a population that was friendly to the Allies, and a substantial body of Allied troops took to the hills as guerrillas. These operated with some effectiveness for six months, but by November 1942 the Japanese were able to mount an effective anti-guerrilla campaign, and the Allied troops were spirited away by American submarines between December 1942 and February 1943.

Some 40,000 Timorese perished during the Japanese occupation from starvation, lack of medicine, or as a result of the guerrilla campaign.


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